Developers face Windows 8 conundrum

Those busy creating apps for iOS and Android have to decide whether to build software for Windows 8 too, with forking of OS for x86- and ARM-based devices complicating matters, analysts note.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

Microsoft faces a challenge convincing developers its upcoming Windows 8 operating system (OS) is worth investing and building software for, since many are already busy on iOS and Android apps. Market analysts say the challenge is compounded when developers would have to consider developing apps for either Windows 8 on x86 devices, or Windows RT for ARM-based devices, or both.

Richard Edwards, principal analyst at Ovum, said the Windows 8 development situation reminded him of the days when DOS and Windows applications ran side by side. Then, certain applications--games, for example--required direct access to the hardware to perform well. Microsoft eventually provided the DirectX API (application programming interface) for developers in 1995. Adoption was slow, though, he noted.

From that experience, Edwards said Redmond is now trying to provide a high-performing environment for Metro apps by tying the browser to the underlying hardware. However, there will be apps that will only ship for the x86-based devices instead of WinRT-powered ARM devices due to performance issues, the Ovum analyst noted.

David Johnson, senior analyst at Forrester Research, added that Microsoft faces a "classic catch-22" situation. "App developers need confidence the devices and Metro UI will be widely adopted but, of course, [these devices] will only be widely adopted if the applications exist," he said.

Johnson also speculated the biggest challenge for Microsoft would be luring developers, currently overwhelmed with work for iOS and Android, back to the Windows platform for new Metro app development.

"With Windows 8 on ARM, or Windows RT, in particular, apps will require at least a recompile and potentially much more work to incorporate touch and gestures. In many cases, it will be a complete redesign of the app for tablet devices," he pointed out.

Focused on developer education
Commenting on these observations, two Redmond executives told ZDNet Asia the software vendor recognizes getting developers onboard as a top priority and it is serious in its efforts to educate and raise awareness of the latest OS.

Todd Rutherford, senior product marketing manager at Microsoft's Windows group, said the company had held 560 classes across 30 different countries to educate developers on how to create Metro apps for both architecture platforms. This meant some 190,000 developers, including iOS and Android ones, had sat in on these sessions, Rutherford said, adding that another 270 classes were still in the pipeline.

"These efforts are made to ensure there will be no shortage of developers and their apps, for both platforms, at launch," he said.

Asked what it would take for new developers to create Metro apps for both platforms, Anantha Kancherla, Windows group program manager at Microsoft, shares that for JavaScript developers there is no need to relearn a new language.

C++ developers, though, will have to recompile their apps to run on both Windows 8 and Windows RT, Kancherla said. This is the only extra step they would have to take besides testing for both environments which, he assured, should not be "radically difficult" to do.

As for existing Windows developers with software coded on .NET or Silverlight, Kancherla said XAML acts as a bridge for them to remodel their programs for Windows RT. The only difference is in the name spaces, which developers would have to manually amend within the codes, he added.

The program manager also stated the software giant's intention is neither about moving away from traditional desktop computing nor focusing strictly on mobile computing.

Rather, with both Windows 8 and Windows RT, Microsoft is looking to provide the right context and environment for all developers and the programs they are developing.

Software developers, for example, who engage in "high productivity tasks" using programs such as InDesign can still rely on the Windows 7 interface, which is included within both Windows 8 and Windows RT laptops, Kancherla said.

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